Content Warning: The interview below discusses Blood Pact, a game with Domination/Submission themes, some tentacles, a succubus goddess, a lust spell, and other elements not discussed in the interview, but available both in the review’s content warning, and the content warning page of the game itself.(more…)
Source: Review Copy
Where To Get It: Steam
Adventure games have quite the history, and it’s one with a lot of branches, and, interestingly enough, more than a couple of roots. For example, while it’s commonly accepted that CAVE, which was eventually renamed Colossal Cave Adventure, was the progenitor of Interactive Fiction (Due to the fact that anything earlier has been lost to time, it’s intriguing to note the history, as adventure games with graphics cropped up as early as 1980 (With Sierra’s Mystery House), and games with a point and click cursor (Controlled by the keyboard) came around 1983, with Project Mephius for the FM-7, a computer that released only in Japan. Indeed, part of the reason the timeline of game design is so messy is that European, American, and Japanese markets had their own home grown items that none of the others saw (Until later.)
Why all this preamble? To establish two things. That the adventures comprising this remake anthology are not, strictly speaking, firsts in the genre. Influential games, yes, but not firsts. But also that it’s fascinating to see changes and shifts, not just on the purely international level, but within individual nations. We’ll be briefly coming back to this, but first, the games!
The three games that comprise this trilogy were originally created in the mid 80s (1985-87) for the then humble Apple Macintosh, and, as such, were known as the MacVentures: Deja Vu, a noirish tale about an amnesiac detective down on his luck; Uninvited, a haunted house tale with the main character searching for their younger brother; and Shadowgate, a fantasy yarn that, despite the comparatively higher difficulty of the former two games, has a reputation for its gotchas and deathtraps. They had a graphic user interface, a selectable parser, and an icon based inventory, all of which were not, strictly speaking, new… But they might as well have been to the European and American audiences.
They did pretty well, well enough that a company called KEMCO ported them, with permission, to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989 and 1990. These are the games remade and presented in this anthology, and this, also, is interesting because the UI was changed, a controller led pointer was introduced (as in Project Mephius, several years previously), and Nintendo, a family friendly company even then, asked for… Changes. Some of these changes, I’m sure people are very grateful about: As far as I’m aware, the ten minute timer for one of Deja Vu’s “Solve this or die” puzzles (finding a cure for your amnesia) was gone. Yes, ten real time minutes. The interface was made tighter due to platform limitations, pentagrams were replaced by stars, and crosses by chalices, and, in an odd decision, it’s not the younger brother you save in Uninvited, but an elder sister.
In any case, that’s where we are today: Reviewing a port of a port of a trio of adventure games from the 80s. How do they hold up? Not that bad, actually! The Nintendo versions were not only notable for their changes, but a solid soundtrack that still holds up to this day, distinctive spritework, and an interface that, thanks to the fact we’re using a mouse rather than the NES controller, is highly accessible and a delight to use. Each could be played through over the course of an afternoon, perhaps less if you follow the ancient adventure game maxim of “Save Early, Save Often” , and only a few of the puzzles don’t have some signposting to their solution (There’s no clue, for example, that a certain ghost is afraid of spiders, sadly.) Be warned, however, that garbage items with no actual use in game abound. Old adventure games loved to do that, partly for realism’s sake (Yes, even then), but also partly to obscure solutions.
Being able to keep saves, and switch between them with relative ease? Oh yes, this is good. Having… Old monitor filters? Well, I guess it’s there? (Not gonna lie, if I wanted more eye strain, I’d just dig out my old BBC Micro and its CRT monitor. But they are nice filters.) And the writing of the games, for the most part, holds up. Deja Vu, being both a game of the 80s, and being inspired by the pulps, is perhaps the one that has aged most poorly, but there’s still some solid design there.
Also, the achievements. Ah ha ha yes, the achievements! It somewhat tickles me that the achievements for this trilogy all have to do with something you would either, unaware of this game from its heyday, stumble into, or, if you’re like me, a person amused by the death states of old videogames, actively seek them out: The deaths. Wait, you mean that lady wasn’t friendly? Gosh! And my shield could only take a few puffs of molten, superheated death spewing from a dragon’s mouth? Golly!
As pieces of relatively faithfully preserved games history, this isn’t bad at all, although the “Volume 1” confuses me a little. After all, there were four MacVentures in total, so… Where would you go from here, General Arcade and Abstraction? Although it must be said, this trilogy did seem to inspire a wave of graphical adventure innovation in the West, from the Legend Entertainment games, to the Magnetic Scrolls series, each of which contributed, somewhat, to the eventual rise of the point-and-clicks we know and love today.
So yes, give these a go if you feel like experiencing some relatively solid 80s game design, and perhaps it might inspire you to check out other bits of adventure game history (Or, indeed, some of the other ports existing out there.)
The Mad Welshman enjoys older adventure games. Things tend to happen when he BITE LIP, however. Terrible things.
Where To Get It: Steam
I could write a single paragraph, and sum up Morphblade’s mechanics and concept. That’s how simple it is. I could sum up how I feel about it in a single sentence, if not the single word “Pleased.” That’s how uncomplicated it is to review. I could write a tiny essay on the tactical complexity the game’s simple rules and simple and easy to identify enemies provides, further fuel for my platform of “All games are made of simple rules, it’s what you do with them that counts.”
I am going to do one of those things. Okay, maybe two. But first, I’m going to say it’s a short game where the pleasure is in playing. Unless you’re good, a single game will last all of two to five minutes. And then it will ask you whether you want to play again.
Instead, I’m going to use 264 words (counting this sentence), to ramble briefly about niches, and how “Short” and “Simple” are not dirty words. People seem to have this weird idea in their heads that if they have a short and simple game, they’re going to play it, get bored, and oh gosh, they’ve wasted… What’s currently the equivalent of two, maybe three bottles of Dr. Pepper. Oh no.
See, here’s the thing about short and simple games… Sometimes, you don’t want a long game. Even the people who say they want long games will find themselves, at 5AM (Coincidentally, it is 05:16), unwilling to touch their Torments, or their Age of Wonders. They’ll find themselves not wanting to stress out over their Overwatch rankings, or their Bulletstorm combos, or the inner complexities of a Hearthstone or whatnot. They’ll want something where they know what they’re in for…
…And Morphblade will be waiting for them. Silently, it will be reminding them that all its rules are explained… As you play. That all its symbols are open to it. That it won’t need you to quit in the middle of a game, because the end is always just around the corner. Just a couple of false moves (Rarely one. Usually two. At worst, three), and it’s all over. And it is definitely your fault, but it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t judge. In fact, it wants you to play it, and you can tell because it’s highly accessible, with an easily deciphered and colourblindness friendly palette, simple, easily deciphered shapes. It fits its niche excellently.
I bet a friend a tenner I couldn’t write more than 500 words about Morphblade, but not only am I going to win this bet, I’m going to finish the review by showing you some simple steps as to how to see for yourself how simple, deadly simple, the game is.
First, you look at the top of this review. There’s that price, less than £4. There’s also a Steam Store page link. Go click that. A video will autoplay (Or, if you have autoplay off, you can click play), and Tom Francis of Suspicious Developements will spend less than 3 minutes demonstrating the game (The length, funnily enough, of a normal game)
I’ve now won a tenner, and am 6 quid up on my purchase. Which I can then use to buy Morphblade for a friend. Because I’m almost certain, based on play, the game, and Mr. Francis’ explanation of the game, that they will at least like it enough to come back to it.
It won’t mind. How can it, it’s a video game. Video games don’t judge. Only people do. I judged “Yea” on this one. You might too.
…Oh yeah, and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. Truly, I’m blessed.
The Mad Welshman smiled. Wave 19 isn’t so bad. We’ll see if we can top 20 later on. Or… Maybe now. Yeah, nothing urgent going on.